Since releasing “100 Days of Growth,” the ebook I put together with my good friend and co-author Rob Wormley, we’ve sold 40,000 copies and generated far more exposure and revenue than we ever expected.
This is how we did it.
Before the Book
Want to know something that surprises a lot of people?
Before either myself or Rob wrote a single word of this book, we’d sold 500 copies.
We didn’t do this because we’d devised a crooked plan to take people’s money and run. We did it because we needed to know there was a market for this book. Writing it was going to take up a lot of time, and we had to be sure (as much as we could, at least) that it would be worth that time.
This is in part why services like Kickstarter have seen so much success (not that we used it – it’s just a fitting example). It’s not just about securing the funds to develop a product – it’s about ensuring the demand for the product is there.
To do this we made a landing page and whipped up a quick cover (using a stock photo…) In essence, we’d created a minimum viable product. We then joined Slack groups and pitched the idea to members, offering them a discount if they pre-ordered.
I think it’s worth noting at this point that in no way did this book sell itself. Unless you already have an audience anxiously awaiting the launch of your next book, I doubt any do.
To sell 40,000 copies I had to hustle really hard, for a really long time – something I imagine any unknown author will have to do (especially if, like most authors these days, they’re self-publishing). When I started, my email list consisted of precisely zero subscribers. In fact, a big motivator for writing the book was building an email list I could leverage to promote the SaaS product I wanted to launch – even though at the time, I didn’t know what this product would be.
I also set myself really ambitious goals. I wanted to build my personal brand, be featured in 25 podcasts, and sell 100,000 copies.
I thought the odds of me meeting those goals were slim, but setting them was the best way to motivate me to push myself to the max. Never mind the satisfaction I got when I blew them out of the water.
Just an aside – setting unrealistic goals isn’t something I’d recommend making a habit of. If you’re setting goals for your team, for example, they should always be achievable. Set the bar too high and you’re setting your team up to fail. They will quickly become demotivated and disillusioned – and that’s not going to do anyone any favors.
If you’re setting goals for yourself, however, and setting big goals helps you work harder and smarter, then that’s fine. Do whatever it takes to get the best results you can (within reason, of course).
It’s probably also worth noting that in case anyone thinks like I did and believes 40,000 book sales isn’t very many – turns out, it is. I used to think 40K wasn’t a big deal at all, until I spoke to Penguin, which confirmed the opposite. In some cases, 5,000 sales could be enough to land you on a bestsellers list (of course this assumes your book meets many stringent conditions, including being in print).
Moral of the story: don’t underplay your success. If you manage to sell even a few thousand books, you’re doing pretty damn well.
Promoting the Book
Before I get into the whats and whys of how we promoted the book, I want to touch on something that had a big impact on our success.
When we released the book, “growth hacking” was a buzzword. It was everywhere, but not everyone understood what it meant. As a result, lots of people were searching for information on the topic, and we were one of the first to get our foot in the door and provide it.
In short, we hit the right topic at the right time. Repeat this now and it wouldn’t work. Jump on another emerging trend however, and you might be onto something.
Of course, there’s more to driving book sales than exploiting an emerging trend. These are the other tactics we used to help drive those 40,000 sales.
We launched on Product Hunt
One of the first things we did after publishing was add the book to Product Hunt. This worked really well for us (it resulted in about 2,500 sales), in large part because at the time, Product Hunt’s book section was non-existent, so you could launch a book and right away you’d be on the site’s homepage.
Again, things have changed since and if you did this now you’d struggle to see the same results. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth adding your book to Product Hunt – it is. But it does mean that pre-launch, you should learn how Product Hunt works and how to get the best out of it. This excellent article by Gabor Papp should help. You might also want to explore some PH “alternatives.” This Quora thread looks like it has some good suggestions (though, disclaimer: I haven’t checked any of them out for myself).
We created content based on buzzwords
We looked for other buzzwords and trending topics related to marketing and growing a business, wrote content around them, and used it to drive traffic to the book’s site by publishing it on the 100 Days of Growth blog.
We reached out to people mentioned in the book
We mentioned a lot of people in 100 Days of Growth, so in the months following the book’s launch we made sure to reach out to every one of them and let them know we’d included them.
This is something to bear in mind before you begin writing. More people featured = more people to reach out to who will potentially help promote your book.
You shouldn’t just go all out and quote as many people as possible. Go too heavy on the quotes and it’s going to look like you’ve simply “curated” the book, instead of writing it yourself. It’s also a wise idea to check the credentials of the people you’re quoting. Are they an authority in their industry? This isn’t so much about checking the size of their online following as it is about ensuring their voice is trusted and respected by their peers.
I pitched to Podcasters
I told them about the book and offered them a free copy, explaining that if they liked it, I was open to being interviewed on their show. In total, I landed about 55 appearances this way.
I leveraged Quora
I answered tons of questions on growth hacking, while making sure to link to my book in the answers for anyone who wanted to find out more. At the time, Quora was ranking in position 2 or 3 on Google for “growth hacking,” which was a massive help.
This is another one of those “it wouldn’t be as effective now” scenarios. That said, if you’re writing great answers, Quora can be a long-term source of steady traffic, whether or not the topic itself is ranking well. Cara Tarbaj has written up a quality case study on the subject over here. She talks about how Quora drove thousands of visitors to Wishpond, and offers up some excellent advice for replicating their success.
I wrote countless guest posts
And I’m not ashamed to say I wasn’t picky. I did this for pretty much any vaguely-related site I could get on.
I’d also ask them for access to their email lists so I could contact their subscribers about the book. I managed to send about 150,000 emails this way.
We reached out to people we thought would care
We were sending 30-50 emails a week to people we thought might be interested in the book, or likely to get something out of it. We gave a lot of free copies to influencers and we put a lot of effort into getting testimonials. I’m probably not exaggerating when I say we begged for them, but hey – it worked.
We leveraged online communities
We also spread the word on platforms like Slack and Inbound.
As another little aside, I want to point out that only once the book started gaining traction and we were making money (about $5,000) did we decide to invest in getting it professionally designed. Those early sales gave us validation that this could really be something, and that it was worth putting money behind.
To date, we’ve sold more than 40,000 copies of the book. But you knew that already. It’s in the title.
What you’re probably more interested in is where those sales came from, how much money we made, and what the book cost to produce.
Bearing in mind these are pretty rough figures, but we got around:
- 2,500 sales from Product Hunt
- 2,500 sales from Mighty Deals
- 5,000 from AppSumo
- 2,000 from Quora
- 3,000 from guest posts (based on me writing one post a week, for 20 weeks)
The remaining sales came off the back of this, thanks to word of mouth. This included me using the success of the book to land speaking engagements and podcast interviews, which in turn helped me sell more books, which helped me land more speaking engagements, and so on.
So, how much money did the book make?
In total, around $500,000 – however, a good chunk of this didn’t stem directly from book sales, but from things like consulting deals and speaking engagements. In fact, only $120K or so came from book sales. Somewhere between $200K-$300K came from consulting, and $50K(ish) came from speaking engagements.
In fact, the contacts I made and the impact the book had on my personal brand was far more valuable – at least in the long run – than its impact on my bank balance.
That said, revenue is an entirely different kettle of fish than profit. Brand-building benefits aside, revenue’s a problem if you’re spending more than you make.
Thankfully the book cost just $2,500 (give or take a few bucks) to produce. That breaks down to:
- $750 for design
- $349 for hosting
- $500 on Upwork for admin tasks
- $500 on Facebook ads (which didn’t work…)
Launching Your Own 6-Figure Book
So you think you’re ready to write and launch your own 6-figure book? This is what you need to do.
Do your research
You’ve already started doing this by reading this post, but there’s much more you can do. Read successful books in your niche and talk to their authors. Figure out what’s worked for them and what you can do better.
Choose a timely topic
As I mentioned previously, one of the reasons 100 Days of Growth did so well is because “growth hacking” was a new concept at the time. It was a buzzword, and people were hungry for information around it. Piggybacking off another trending topic could be instrumental to your success.
Plan two or three ways to promote your book pre-launch
Don’t wait until your book is on sale before you begin to promote it. Start drumming up interest before you hit publish, or, like myself and Rob did, before you even start writing. If people aren’t interested, it’s not because the book doesn’t exist yet – it’s because there’s no market for what you want to write about.
Format your book
The easiest way to do this is write your book in Google Docs or Word and then hire a pro to convert it into an ebook-friendly version (there are plenty of people that can do this on Upwork).
Decide where and how to publish
Alternatively, you can look at working with a publisher (but I’ve never done this, so I can’t advise). That said, l think it’s safe to say getting the backing of a publisher isn’t easy.
Set your pricing
Too high and you’ll price yourself out of the market. Too low and you might not be as profitable as you could be. More worryingly, you’re going to devalue your work (moral of the story: charge what you’re worth).
To establish your price point, look at what’s being charged for books of a similar length and depth in your industry. You might want to undercut them a little, but don’t go overboard.
It’s also worth considering what’s being charged for books on the platforms you’re selling on. For instance, in the UK the majority of Amazon ebook sales are for books priced at just £0.99.
Bonus tip: consumers are generally willing to pay more money for books designed to help them make money.
Do you have any other tips or insights for writing, publishing and promoting a 6-figure ebook? Comments are below, if you can spare a minute to share them.